I was listening to a Dallas-area sports radio station late Friday afternoon -- I'll give you three guesses as to which one it was -- when, as you might expect, another on-air segment on the Dallas Mavericks launched forth. There's nothing especially remarkable or unexpected about people talking up a local team on the verge of (and now successful in) clinching its first-ever title, but it's what ensued during the segment in question that somewhat resonated with me.
As the roundtable conversation meandered to and fro, it took a sudden violent detour down the road of J.J. Barea's forthcoming contractual status, and whether the Mavericks might be able to retain his services on the other side of the impending lockout, and, basically, what the future Mavericks might end up looking like. It was at that moment that all of the on-air talent seemed to simultaneously realize just how ludicrous it really was to debate the composition of next season's roster when this season's roster was two days away from a potential championship and, without skipping a beat, yanked hard on the emergency brake and quickly moved on to something else of relevance.
I bring up this basketball anecdote that has no readily apparent connection to baseball because I think it accurately reflects the mindset of many a fan and/or analyst -- that is, the perpetual, constant focus on the future. For bad teams, the future represents an opportunity to reverse the prevailing ill winds holding them down. For good teams, the future represents an opportunity to build on their present success and create a sustainable dynasty. Anything is possible in the future, and the ability to speculate on that provides an outlet for boundless optimism or self-gratifying defeatism. Our long-standing obsession with the future has helped steer the development of modern sabermetric analysis, and has literally turned the prospect scouting game into a multi-million dollar industry unto itself.
"Do you have a point?", you wonder aloud. "I have to hurry up and finish reading this so I can check Norm's Clubhouse and drop another $1,000 on one of his triple plays before hurling myself out of my high-rise office's window." Actually, it's more of a question than a point -- do we sometimes go too far in eschewing the present in favor of the future? Do we always fully appreciate what we have on hand right up until it's possibly gone for good? I'm not so sure. And note that when I say "we," I'm really not talking about the beat-writing types whose primary purpose already is to cover the present, but instead the more analysis-oriented types (both writers and fans) that provide the meat and potatoes in intelligent, analytically minded baseball conversations.
I could point to several different "underappreciated" Rangers players here (yes, even Ian Kinsler, whose offensive shortcomings this season don't obscure the fact that he's still been one of the better second basemen in baseball through 60-something games), but there's one in particular that's been on my mind lately. So much of the discussion on C.J. Wilson this year has been oriented towards his forthcoming four- or five- or six-year superdeal that his performance has, in a way, almost become sort of an afterthought. He's no longer this sexy, dangerous, and somewhat unknown quantity that he was upon his entrance into the starting rotation last year; now, he's more of an known, less nebulous quantity, somebody who has now logged 300 regular-season rotation innings over the last two seasons and probably won't deviate much from the baselines he has established during that period.
And as a result of all of that, I think it's pretty easy to overlook just what Wilson has managed to accomplish, and what he still is accomplishing right now. With Colby Lewis's aberrant fastball command sending his peripherals south faster than public opinion of the Miami Heat, Wilson can stake a justifiable claim to the label of "staff ace"; incredibly, he's slashed his walk rate by a full batter per nine innings (3.09 BB/9) relative to last season while still improving upon his strikeout rate (7.78 K/9) and retiring the equivalent of two extra batters per start (nearly seven full frames per outing). If Alexi Ogando ever stops breaking the laws of BABIP and his ERA nudges upward, it should become more apparent to the casual fan that C.J. likely has a leg up over him.
Wilson's headed for another All-Star-caliber season (though it remains to be seen whether he'll receive that nod over some very tough competition) ... and yet, how much love does he really get for being one of the American League's best starting pitchers? Not enough from me, certainly, as I've been more focused on trying to pin down what he's going to end up making next season (possibly, though obviously not certainly, something in the $85-90 million range), and who will be disbursing his paychecks. A lot of other people seem similarly focused on Wilson's future, but depending on how aggressive you are in doing so and how attentive you are to the present, you could very easily overlook what may be the final great months of C.J. Wilson in a Rangers uniform.
Now, this could all be a function of lacking perception on my end and people taking more notice of Wilson and the like than I'm giving them credit for (though I don't think that's it), and, ultimately, it's not so difficult to figure out why we don't always take full heed of what's going on right now. The Rangers, losers of three of their last four and five of their last seven games, aren't an especially fun team to watch right now; when we hit those low points, it's simply more fun to start dreaming and haphazardly wishcasting than to talk about David Murphy's latest 0-for-X and Arthur Rhodes' geriatric follies.
That's cool with me, but as a certain basketball team demonstrated last night, you also have to appreciate the moment for what it is ... because you never know if you'll get another chance to do it.